Are you ready to negotiate?

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It looks like a simple question but is it really?

The strange thing is that I’ve only met probably two or three people who have told me that they are trained in negotiation. I’m not sure what it is but South African small business owners don’t seem to see the real need for negotiation training. I don’t know if this is similar around the world but negotiation here is viewed as something you just learn instinctively as you go along.

It’s no wonder that small business owners often find negotiation doesn’t work for them. They feel frustrated after a negotiation, not having achieved much after hours of discussion. Often their negotiations deadlock. Then there are those who feel afterwards that they’ve done well in a negotiation but are mystified why their adversary appears so satisfied.

Those business people who take an interest in negotiation may have read a textbook on the subject or attended a short course run by an academic who wonders around spewing out platitudes on negotiation. The promise is: just follow my tips and you’ll be an expert negotiator. Others claim to have successful systems.

The problem with these negotiation authors and trainers is that they have had little or no real-world experience in negotiation. But the far larger problem is that they don’t have a research base to back up their teaching.

Negotiation is similar to a contact sport. You can read about rugby, soccer, tennis or cricket and even watch games on TV but unless you play, you won’t know a fig about what it really takes to play the game.

To be an expert negotiator takes training with a base of real-world negotiation research and participation in negotiation. It’s much like a ballerina, a top tennis player or soccer star. You’ve got to practice and play to become good at what you’re doing.

Being ready to negotiate requires preparation. Negotiation is a mutually agreed exchange so you must be clear about your interests and your issues as well as the other party’s. Some negotiators will invest several hours preparation for one hour of negotiation.

Preparation for negotiation includes coming to terms with your emotions. Being calm and collected during hours of negotiation when the other side is trying to weigh you down and attacking your proposals is hard. But negotiation is probably 80% emotional and 20% intellectual.

If you are reaching better deals and agreements in your negotiations, you probably just need to keep doing what you’ve learned to do. But if you’re deadlocking or coming off second best, isn’t about time to change?

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